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Divinity: Original Sin II

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: Aug. 31, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'Divinity: Original Sin II' - Definitive Edition

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 10, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Divinity: Original Sin II is a top-down, party-based action/RPG featuring cooperative multiplayer, turn-based combat, a strong focus on systematic gameplay and a well-grounded narrative.

Buy Divinity: Original Sin II - Definitive Edition

Not so long ago, there was a high demand for — and supply of — isometric RPGs. It was a time when Bioware was known for RPG quality, which they've been struggling with recently. While it's unlikely that we'll see another great isometric experience from Bioware soon, other developers have stepped up to lead the pack. One of those is Larian Studios, who caused huge ripples with Divinity: Original Sin in 2013 and last year's universally praised sequel, Divinity: Original Sin II. A lot of time has passed since then, leading to the product we hold in our hands now, the definitive edition. Available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One, the definitive outing reworks and adds even more content to the already great offering, making it an equally impressive accomplishment.

The beauty of Divinity II isn't necessarily in the type of game it is, but in how it deals with player choice and freedom. From the moment we jump into the game, we're free to do whatever we like. We can take control of one of six predefined characters with different backstories and traits, or we can create a character from scratch. Before we make a decision, the characters can tell their stories in a little cut scene; it's a nice touch that sets the standard of immersive storytelling.

There are standout characters like the Red Prince, a red lizard that's determined to regain his throne, or Mane, a skeleton shapeshifter that likes to rip the faces from human corpses and make them into masks; it's a skill that opens up a wealth of gameplay possibilities. Another surprise includes the Elven ability to eat the deceased and relive their final moment to gain new skills or learn valuable intel. If you can't decide which character is best but you find them in the game world, you can add them to your party. Once we've chosen or created an alter ego, we can begin.

We enter the world of Rivellon as a sourcerer. Without reciting the extensive lore, I'll keep the synopsis simple. Magical powers are fueled by source energy, which sourcerers know how to manipulate. The world used to be kept safe by a mighty sourcerer, known as the divine, who died before the start of Divinity II. This disturbed the balance between good and evil, and beasts started creeping into the world because they were attracted to the source energy. We have a larger part to play in eventually restoring order to the world, but before we can, we're captured by the divine order and its sinister magisters, and we're brought to the prison island of Fort Joy.

It's easy to appreciate the amount of freedom we have in tackling the most miniscule situations. We quickly solved a handful of quests that lead to one milestone: fleeing our prison. There are several ways out of Fort Joy, and we have the choice to find it on our own, consult other prisoners, or finish quests to gain intel and help. Choice is at the center of it all. Very soon, we need a key that's inconveniently located in a room where guards are torturing another prisoner. Depending on our stats, we can pick the locked door, use our weapons to bring it down with force, sneak into the room, teleport the key, or bash in the guards' heads. There are likely even more ways to solve this comparably unimportant event, but it emphasizes that Divinity II incorporates a multitude of different systems that all interact with little to no limitations, enabling experimentation.

Divinity II can be a challenging experience in the first few hours, so players would be wise to skillfully avoid combat until they have the gear and skills to punish enemies effectively. The game certainly looks like many titles of its ilk, but it succeeds in feeling distinct. There are thorough skill trees and leveling mechanics, crossed with an extensive loot and crafting system that often fuels obsessive stretches of creating and improving your gear. There are special skills to learn, some of which are provided by certain pieces of equipment, and others are dependent on your leveling in the area of a skill. Experimenting and improving your equipment, leveling and skills is essential to staying alive.

Divinity II's combat is turn-based, similar to XCOM, except it isn't tile-based. Each round, characters have a certain amount of Action Points to spend on actions and orders. It's a more open approach to turn-based combat but still feels very much like a classic RPG, with powerful skills that grant special attacks or buffs with ordinary attacks and potions sprinkled in. It becomes a more tactical experience, where positioning is key to any battle. The world is littered with different surfaces that influence encounters, and that can be used to your advantage or disadvantage. Oil barrels and surfaces are, highly flammable and can be used for extra fire damage, while water bombs and barrels can extinguish allies if necessary. Blood and water surfaces can be used as conductors to electrocute a huge area at once or frozen to slow down your enemies and create slippery surfaces. There will be a lot of blood. Mastering Divinity's combat means mastering your party and its positioning within the area to maximize damage dealing and minimize exposure to additional buffs on top of well-balanced and smart equipment choices.

That also extends to the moments before a fight. You may not always have the advantage going into a fight, but if you do, you can try to sneak yourself and your allies into position prior to its start because as soon as all hell breaks loose, you have to play from where you are. You can even try to keep one of your characters hidden in sneak mode for an eventual surprise attack. It may take you a while to fully embrace the freedom you have, which means several spontaneous fights where your squad is caught in a small huddle and your opponents manage to almost eradicate your characters with some area of effect attacks.

The challenge is somewhat increased if you're playing the console version, where the cursor isn't as natural to control as if you had a mouse. Given the amount of buffs, fire and magic that exist on the battleground, it can be legitimately difficult to make out what's happening, who you're controlling and where to attack. If you are playing the definitive edition on the console, prepare for an added frustration level from the controls alone. Then again, it is working as expected for a PC-to-console port. Menus were revamped for use with the controllers, and while they aren't even close to the comfort of a mouse and keyboard, they are serviceable, even though they never feel quite natural to use in this context, which is the trade-off for getting Divinity II on consoles.

Again, it can be tough, but if you take your time and chose your first encounters wisely to gain XP and better gear, you'll quickly become rather powerful and deal extraordinary amounts of damage — so much so that the balance can sometimes feel off. The issue has mostly been rectified in the definitive edition, but it still feels like there's an easier route in leveling if you choose specific skills over others.

Quests are another strong part of the Divinity II experience, since they fill the world with story and context. The title incorporates an incredible amount of dialogue choices and story segments; characters react to you in different ways and offer sometimes serious, sometimes interesting and often funny commentaries that are all fully voiced. Even the narrator in Divinity II is voiced, which makes parts of it feel like a chose-your-own-adventure audiobook in all the right ways.

Divinity doesn't have extensive facial animations that would convey emotions, but the thorough and mostly good voiced lines of dialogue deliver a huge amount of quality story and background information that hooks in players who are into well-told, interactive stories. Those who skip cutscenes and dialogues wouldn't find this part compelling, either.

The actual content of the story and quests are equally enjoyable, especially considering that Divinity II is a long experience with a main story line that lasts about 50 hours. The tasks within those quests may not necessarily be unique in their nature, but with the aforementioned dynamic storytelling and systems in play, it becomes more enjoyable. The whole story is a slow but satisfying burn that keeps your on your toes and continues to entertain. There's always something to do, and the game most certainly rewards you for seeking out every corner of the game world.

What should be equally mentioned is the excellence of making the story playable with a buddy online or in couch co-op. There are dynamic, split-screen options, so you can either venture off to do your own thing or unite in your quests. It's as much fun and intelligently made as a co-op experience can be, especially considering the genre.

Visually, Divinity II is equally satisfying for isometric RPGs, with lush environments that look good on all systems and incorporate dynamic and native 4K with HDR for PS4 and Xbox One X, respectively. It won't trump a high-end PC because the PS4 version certainly has frequent FPS drops while venturing through the world, and it feels like they shouldn't happen, so it can sometimes get on your nerves. The camera can be equally frustrating when it doesn't play nice with the analog stick, so it becomes difficult to see the action and what's actually going on.

The definitive edition of Divinity II adds quite a few quality of life improvements, apart from the jump to consoles and the improved performance. The final act received major rewrites and new lines of dialogue, making the finale a more well-rounded experience. Add to that a new tutorial that gives you some sort of introduction to the game systems and world, which are helpful for newcomers to get an early grasp of what's actually going on. Divinity II doesn't hold your hand, so it's nice to have a little area to take your first steps. The journal is completely revamped to provide players with clearer instructions about quests and making sure you know where to go or what to do at all times. It's gotten clearer — but it's still vague enough to let you explore things on your own — except now you at least know the general direction you should head in.

Overall, Divinity: Original Sin II is still an excellent RPG experience that uses intuitive mechanics and player choice to an incredible degree to make every encounter challenging and interesting. Divinity II is a beast of an RPG that does many different things incredibly well. It's not perfect from a technical standpoint, and fights and leveling can be frustrating at times, but these are minor quibbles when compared to all of the good stuff that's in the game and works well. If you're in the market for a new RPG with interesting storytelling and an appropriate amount of freedom, make Divinity II your next adventure.

Score: 9.0/10

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